Longtime Grand Rapids housing commissioner to retire

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From left, Grand Rapids Third Ward City Commissioner Senita Lenear, Housing Commissioner Bobbie Butler, Mayor Rosalynn Bliss and City Manager Mark Washington. Courtesy city of Grand Rapids

After 45 years of service, Bobbie Butler will retire from her post on the Grand Rapids Housing Commission at the end of the month.

Grand Rapids Mayor Rosalynn Bliss presented Butler with a formal proclamation at the March 14 meeting of the Grand Rapids City Commission for her decades of dedicated service. Butler’s last day as a housing commissioner will be March 31.

She was appointed to the housing commission — which works to provide housing assistance and affordable housing opportunities to lower-income families, disabled individuals and senior citizens — by City Manager Joseph Zainea and confirmed by the city commission on Jan. 4, 1977.

During her tenure, Butler worked with three commission executive directors, five mayors and multiple city managers. Alongside her colleagues, she has overseen the development of thousands of units of affordable housing, such as Ransom Tower, Campau Court, Mount Mercy, Creston Plaza and the recently opened Antoine Court, all of which have provided homes to thousands of Grand Rapidians and their families.

“Commissioner Butler has used her intellect, insight and experience to further the Grand Rapids Housing Commission mission to provide affordable housing opportunities for this community,” said Lindsey Reams, the housing commission’s executive director. “She has represented the housing commission as a champion for housing equity in the local, state, regional and national spheres. We are grateful for all she has contributed to the agency, the people we serve and the Grand Rapids community and wish her continued health, happiness and prosperity.”

Butler has been present throughout the growth of various iterations of Section 8 programs, providing rental assistance and homeownership opportunities for lower-income families in conjunction with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). She helped the commission implement and grow the local Family Self-Sufficiency Program from its inception as “Operation Bootstrap” under then-HUD Secretary Jack Kemp in the early 1990s.

A champion for the city’s most vulnerable, Butler helped the housing commission open a transitional housing program for homeless women with minor dependent children known as Hope Community. The program has 24 units of housing and a two-year curriculum to assist families to become economically self-sufficient and attain housing stability. Butler also supported the creation of the Jean McKee Resident Scholarship program in memory of attorney, community leader and longtime Housing Commissioner Jean McKee. The program awards scholarships to residents of local affordable housing programs.

Butler has been involved with programs such as “Shelter Plus Care,” providing units to homeless veterans and their surviving spouses, and the “Home At Last” initiative, a partnership with Network 180 to help individuals experiencing chronic homelessness maintain stable housing. Ideas such as transitioning Hope Community to a rapid rehousing program model, serving homeless women and children, have benefited from her focus and attention, the city said.

In addition to serving on the housing commission, Butler also helped advance equity, inclusion and equal opportunity in the city. Serving as the city’s community relations director from 1970-76 and as the director of the then-newly created Equal Opportunity Department from 1976-88, Butler was responsible for creating the city’s first affirmative action plan, first contract compliance program, first sexual harassment policy and the first municipal minority/women-owned business enterprise program in the state of Michigan. Her work laid the foundation for the city’s current Office of Equity and Engagement and continues to live on through a variety of diversity, equity and inclusion programs.

“The lack of affordable housing is a national issue,” said Grand Rapids City Manager Mark Washington. “Grand Rapids has not been immune to that over the years, but Mrs. Butler’s commitment to the people of this community has ensured we’ve continued to make positive progress in the fight to ensure everyone has access to safe and stable housing.

“Her contributions and leadership have changed countless lives in this city. Her work not just on the housing commission but even within city hall has left an indelible mark, and her unprecedented length of service should serve as an example to us all of what it means to be truly invested in the community.”

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